10 reviews that defined The Verge’s first decade

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Reviews have been part of The Verge’s DNA since the very beginning. Before the beginning, actually — in the site’s prehistory as This Is My Next, reviews were one of the core elements of continuity in the months before we launched The Verge for real. In those days, we were tackling terrible Android and BlackBerry tablets, evaluating the first wave of Intel ultrabooks, and heaping praise on the then-revolutionary Galaxy Nexus.

Since then, we’ve been there for the rise of drones, VR, smartwatches, foldables, OLED screens, mirrorless cameras, voice assistants, video doorbells, and streaming media boxes, not to mention the best smartphones and the most impractical laptops. From the beginning, The Verge has picked the products that looked like they’d make a difference and told you the truth about each one.

As we look toward the next decade of setting the bar even higher for product reviews, we’ve taken a look back at the 10 most important and influential ones: reviews that didn’t just say whether a product was good or bad, but helped define the product space and move the industry forward in ways that go far beyond simple buying advice.

Here are the gadgets and reviews from The Verge’s first ten years that really mattered.

Surface RT

7 / 10, October 12th, 2012

The website known as This Is My Next officially launched as The Verge on November 1st, 2011, which means that The Verge proper missed out on reviewing nearly all the major fall tech releases of 2011.

2012, though, was a very different story, with the “Tech-tober” fall season bringing not just the usual pile of iPhones, Android phones, and laptops, but one of the most important new devices of the last decade: the Microsoft Surface. After years of taking a back seat on Windows hardware, the Surface was a bold entry by Microsoft into the world of building its own PCs — showing both the world and its own hardware partners what the future of Windows could look like. Microsoft was trying to follow in Apple’s footsteps, combining its hardware and software experience together for the ultimate mobile computer.

The sleek hardware, with its colorful covers that housed their own keyboards, were meant to put bulky PCs to shame; their custom version of Windows intended to outclass the iPad’s mobile software sensibilities by showing what a real productivity tablet could look like.

Unfortunately, as The Verge’s review showed, the original Surface was a misfire. The hardware, while nice looking, was underpowered; the lighter, more portable version of Windows half-baked. Microsoft was out of its depth with getting Windows to work on ARM (something it still continues to struggle with), it confused customers and employees with what the Surface could actually do, and eventually the company wrote off $900 million worth of unsold tablets.

Microsoft’s PC hardware has gotten a lot more polished since the original Surface — and so have The Verge’s reviews of them. But this first slate was the biggest, most anticipated product review in the first year of our website and remains, to this day, the single most commented-on article ever posted to The Verge. — Chaim Gartenberg

Nokia Lumia 920

7.9 / 10, November 1st, 2012

In 2012, Windows Phone needed a big win. Microsoft’s revamped software was still rapidly losing ground to iOS and Android, and Nokia’s Lumia 920, the first Windows Phone that caught everyone’s attention, looked like the answer. The striking colors, top-notch specs, and even wireless charging (a rarity at the time) were second only to the PureView camera that made the Lumia 920 stand out from its Android and iOS competition, boasting optical image stabilization and the promise of revolutionary low-light performance.

It was a controversial addition at first due to some misleading marketing images that were purportedly shot on the smartphone but were actually taken on a DSLR — something first spotted by The Verge. That discovery in turn led us to venture out to Central Park in New York City to test Nokia’s camera claims for ourselves: it was The Verge that shared the first real photos taken by the phone as well. The PureView camera on the Lumia 920 did eventually hold up in our actual review — despite the initial deception, its low-light performance and OIS were legitimately ahead of the pack for the time, leading one to wonder why Nokia felt obligated to fake the shots in the first place.

Windows Phone primarily failed due to a lack of apps and software support, despite legitimately interesting hardware like the Lumia 920. But the Lumia 920 will always be remembered as the Windows Phone camera that truly leapfrogged the competition. It successfully steered the smartphone camera conversation toward image stabilization and low-light performance, which are the main things we look for in modern devices almost a decade later. Perhaps the Lumia 920 was just a little too ahead of its time. — Tom Warren

Samsung Galaxy S6

8.8 / 10, March 31st, 2015

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 represented a monumental step forward for the company’s craftsmanship of smartphones. Shifting away from the plastic and faux leather that had become a staple of its mobile devices, the S6 upgraded to a design that was all glass and metal. So it only felt appropriate to shoot our review at a glassblowing plant — marking one of The Verge’s most over-the-top productions at this stage in the site’s history. We’ve continued to try to one-up ourselves every year since for our major reviews.

The S6 was a turning point for Samsung — instead of being the cheap plastic copy of Apple’s more premium-looking metal and glass smartphones, it was suddenly at the top of the playing field. In fact, thanks to its tight tolerances, seamless curves, and attention to detail, the Samsung Galaxy S6 was a phone that felt better to hold than Apple’s competing iPhones at the time. It wasn’t just style, either: the S6 was packed to the brim with specs, including a gorgeous OLED panel, a top-notch processor, and the sorts of weird experiments that Samsung tends to skip these days (including an IR blaster, a heart rate monitor that doubled as a shutter button, and no fewer than two wireless charging standards).

These refinements and additions didn’t come without sacrifice: with the S6, Samsung said goodbye to removable batteries — and the phone even lost its water resistance rating. Thankfully, the latter would soon return the next year, and after taking such big strides in build quality, Samsung never looked back. — Chris Welch

Apple Watch

7 / 10, April 8th, 2015

The Apple Watch might not have been the most important thing Apple released this decade, but as a rare entry into a new product category, it was certainly the most anticipated. The first new product of Tim Cook’s tenure as CEO, an innovation that was promised to be as important and new for both the company and the world as the Mac or the iPhone. Expectations were stratospheric.

The Verge review, too, was our most visually striking and extravagant yet. Subtitled “A day in the life,” we pulled out all the stops for the review, which used a custom scrolling layout with video backgrounds to tell the story of what it was actually like to use this futuristic — and as it turned out, unpolished — device from morning to evening.

Behind the scenes, there are often more people involved in the production of a Verge review than you might expect. But the Apple Watch review was such a colossal undertaking that it warranted a full-on credits section listing a total of 31 people, including stylists, extras, and contributors from other Vox Media sites. And the conclusion holds up: as Nilay wrote, the first-gen Apple Watch was an incredibly ambitious product that suffered from poor performance and a lack of focus.

Needless to say, we don’t review the Apple Watch (or anything else) like that every year. Last year’s Series 6 review was titled “minute improvements,” a pun that underscores how the Apple Watch has grown into a refined, category-owning, and even kind of boring product. For better and worse, that was not the case in 2015. — Sam Byford

Oculus Rift

8 / 10, March 28th, 2016

Virtual reality wasn’t invented this decade. (It also never truly died out in the ‘90s, Virtual Boy jokes aside.) But you can divide the whole medium into two periods: before and after the Oculus Rift. Oculus launched in 2012 with a prototype literally held together by duct tape, but it jumped into 2016 with a meticulously crafted consumer edition that was like nothing we had ever reviewed — and it remains one of the best VR headset designs ever sold. It was the first time The Verge evaluated VR as a product, not just a dream.

Even figuring out how to photograph the Rift was an exhilarating experience. How did you convey the experience of using something with a screen nobody else could see? Where was the line between capturing the Rift’s awkwardness — wires, tracking cameras, the fact that you weren’t even supposed to use it standing up — and its sci-fi coolness? What did you wear for a shoot where representing how a device interacted with your body was so important? (Confession: the answer is “a puffy Uniqlo outerwear vest I wore for a few hours with the tag tucked in and returned.” Sorry about that. It was like sixty dollars and really not my style.)

At the same time, using the Rift — the first VR device I spent long, sometimes lonely stretches in — helped clarify the challenges the medium would face. Combined with the experience of the contemporary HTC Vive, it set the benchmarks for how we evaluated practically every headset afterward. It’s the reason we still have a dedicated studio space labeled the “VR Room,” although after the rise of use-anywhere headsets like the Oculus Quest, the name became a lot less accurate.

Headsets have improved a lot since 2016. But Oculus’ influence — and the Rift’s — is still absolutely unmistakable. — Adi Robertson

iPhone XS

8.5 / 10, September 18th, 2018

A decade of Verge reviews has made one thing clear: every phone review is a camera review. It was true in 2011 when the iPhone 4S began to make point-and-shoot cameras obsolete, and it’s true in 2021 as the iPhone 13 Pro takes a massive lead. The camera is still one of the biggest places handset manufacturers can make their devices meaningfully better than the competition — but as we pointed out with a Verge review, Apple dropped the ball with the iPhone XS in 2018. We vividly showed that despite adopting a computational photography pipeline that combines multiple frames into a Smart HDR image, Apple’s $1,000+ camera couldn’t compete with Google’s $650 Pixel 2.

That’s something few others dared to even mention, much less show, and while some publications later tried to explain it away as the new normal of computational photography, Apple seems to have taken our criticism to heart. For the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, it drastically changed its entire image processing pipeline at the same time it upgraded the camera hardware. We called it the best camera you can get on a phone, and Apple hasn’t fallen behind since. — Sean Hollister

iPad Pro

8.5 / 10, November 5th, 2018

I knew this review would be controversial when we published it — a lot of people love their iPads, and nothing about this particular new iPad Pro was necessarily bad. But Apple had announced it with a lot of direct comparisons to laptops, especially around performance. It felt important to clearly say that iOS 12 itself hadn’t really been changed at all, and that the limitations of the iPad were still the same as ever, even though the price and that USB-C port made it seem more like a laptop. Sometimes saying the most obvious thing is the most useful thing you can do in a review, even if you know it’s going to make some people unhappy.

Of course, the next year Apple introduced iOS 13 for the iPad by going down my list of issues almost verbatim and addressing them: More sensible multitasking? Check. Better file management? Check. Desktop-class browsing? Check. A lot of people noticed, and I got a few notes about it, which was nice. Sometimes reviews really do help push things along. — Nilay Patel

Samsung Galaxy Fold

4 / 10, 5 / 10; April 19th, 2019, October 30th, 2019

Samsung’s original Galaxy Fold was supposed to usher in a new era of mobile devices on its planned launch date of April 26th, 2019, an era that would force us to rethink how, when, and for what we used our phones. All eyes were on the ambitious new device — and on the early reviews of the phone, which revealed critical flaws in the durability of the Fold’s flexible screen that almost ended not just Samsung’s first foldable, but the entire product category before it could even get started.

Three days after we published our review of the very first Galaxy Fold, Samsung canceled the initial launch and delayed the release until it could fix the very things we brought up, including issues with the nonremovable protective screen layer and a broken screen from random debris that made its way inside.

It was a fundamentally flawed product that Samsung would have sent out to thousands of customers if reviewers hadn’t caught (and suffered with) the issues first. It was also an intriguing product which, in its very design, suggested we could change our relationship with our phones. Samsung would go on to address many of the Fold’s issues in October 2019, a few months after our initial review, making it one of the rare products to receive a re-review on The Verge (although the revamped first-gen Fold still was a fairly fragile phone).

Two years later and Samsung is already on its fourth iteration of the Fold, having figured out most of the durability issues. But the rest of us are still figuring out what our relationship with our phones should be. — Dieter Bohn

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

8.5 / 10, March 3rd, 2020

Just a few years ago, if you were buying an AMD-powered laptop, it was probably a budget laptop. Intel had so thoroughly dominated the PC landscape that the first Verge review of an AMD-powered machine came in 2019 with the Surface Laptop 3.

Now, the era of bargain-basement AMD laptops is over. Intel vs. AMD is now one of the biggest stories in the PC sphere, and the battle extends from the budget sector up through powerful and popular flagships. AMD processors are now in budget laptops, gaming laptops, business laptops, and every other device you can think of — and they’re superior to Intel on efficiency, power, and price. There’s really and truly a new chip in town.

That all started with the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. After my first day testing the G14, I emailed Asus to ask if the listed price was a typo. I had never seen the performance the Ryzen 7 4900HS was delivering at anything close to the G14’s price point. I had never seen it packed into such a lightweight chassis. I had never seen it combined with such exceptional battery life — this was the era when five hours was a decent result for a gaming laptop.

The G14 turned our expectations for powerful, portable laptops on their heads. It was a signal that AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series wasn’t just ready to contend with Intel’s best; it was ready to run Intel’s best out of the room. It was a sign that the world of laptops was about to change. — Monica Chin

MacBook Air M1

9.5 / 10, November 27th, 2020

We had a lot of hesitancy and trepidation going into this review — could it really be as good as Apple claimed? History was certainly not on the side of emulation software for providing a good experience. Surely there would be a show-stopping problem or incompatibility that would put some big cracks in Apple’s carefully crafted image of the Air.

And yet, all of our expectations were basically shattered. Performance? Shockingly good, even when running emulated x86 apps using Apple’s new Rosetta 2 framework. Battery life? Astonishing, completely blowing away anything comparable in size and weight. Comfort and ergonomics? It ran cool and was completely silent thanks to its lack of a fan. Even the newly revised keyboard was a treat to type on and didn’t have any of the reliability concerns of Apple’s prior butterfly models. And in typical Apple form, the trackpad is best in class.

So what kept the Air from getting the illustrious perfect 10 out of 10 score, something we’ve never given out at The Verge? Well, Apple’s integration of iOS apps into macOS was perhaps the only software stumble, though most people could happily ignore that. Since this was an entirely new platform architecture, there are some older applications that wouldn’t yet run, even with Apple’s excellent emulation layer. The webcam remains bad, a particular pain point during a global pandemic. And it would really be nice to have more than just two measly USB-C ports, or at the very least put one on each side for more convenient charging.

Tally up those faults, though, and you can see they really don’t add up to much, and as I write this nearly a year later, the score we gave to the M1 Air still holds up today. The traditional clamshell laptop may not have too much longer for this world, as we eventually transition to touchscreen devices that are more flexible and can be used in a variety of ways. But the M1 Air is perhaps the best thin-and-light laptop ever made, thoroughly earning its 9.5 / 10 score — the highest rated product in The Verge’s 10-year history. – Dan Seifert

Written by Chaim Gartenberg
This news first appeared on https://www.theverge.com/22755877/verge-10-years-reviews-decade under the title “10 reviews that defined The Verge’s first decade”. Bolchha Nepal is not responsible or affiliated towards the opinion expressed in this news article.